International Geoscience Programme (IGCP) Geoscience in the service
International Geoscience Programme (IGCP)
Geoscience in the service of society
How can planners, politicians and citizens prepare for earthquakes? Damaging earthquakes on faults typically recur at intervals of centuries to millennia but
the seismographs that register them have only been around for about hundred years. To reduce the hazard from earthquakes we need a longer record of
them than can be provided from such instruments. Archaeological evidence has the potential to determine earthquake activity over millennial time spans,
especially where integrated with historical documents and geological evidence.
Archaeology can be used in three ways to help confront the seismic-hazard threat. First, where archaeological relics are displaced they can be used to find
earthquake faults, show in which direction they slipped during the earthquake and establish comparative fault slip-rates. Second, archaeological information
can date episodes of faulting and shaking. Third, we can search for ancient signs of seismic damage. The obvious difficulty with the last approach is that it is
hard to distinguish between damage caused by an earthquake and that caused by another destructive event, such as war or the natural failure of
foundations. Typologies of earthquake-characteristic damage have been proposed but rarely have they been subjected to a critical and systematic analysis.
Consequently archaeoseismic indicators are accepted by some earthquake scientists and rejected by others.
The key element of the International Geoscience Programme IGCP 567 is our contention that archaeological
evidence can make a valuable contribution to long-term seismic-hazard assessment in earthquake-prone
regions where there is a long and lasting cultural heritage. We have identified the Alpine-Himalayan region as
the ideal laboratory, because the archaeoseismological studies that have already taken root in the Eastern
Mediterranean can be extended to neighbouring regions, most importantly south along North African shores,
north into the Caucasus Mountains, and east into western Asia. By going from the shaking table to the
archaeological remains the project intends to develop a broadly accepted methodological framework to what
reliably constitutes seismic damage. As well as trying to establish this common methodological framework that is
crucial for archaeoseismology to develop into a recognised and legitimate field of earthquake science, case
studies from these regions will address specific questions relating to the locations, timing and size of past
destructive earthquakes and so will aim to contribute specific information for seismic-hazard analysis.
But there is a wider remit for our activities, because our research clearly has important humanitarian and economic implications. As illustrated by the 2003
collapse of the World Heritage site in the Bam (Iran) earthquake, cultural heritage sites themselves are threatened by seismic destruction. Clearly, there is a
growing need to understand how ancient structures and monuments respond to faulting and ground shaking. On an even broader scale, our work will
contribute to our understanding of ancient history, elucidating why some cities were abandoned or why former societies suffered decline, and confronting the
enduring attraction of fault lines in luring peoples, ancient and modern, to settle along persistent danger zones. In other words, this project will contribute to
our own cultural heritage.
Manuel Sintubin Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium
Iain Stewart University of Plymouth, U.K.
Tina Niemi University of Missouri-Kansas City, U.S.A.
Erhan Altunel Eskiehir Osmangazi niversitesi, Turkey
For more information
Visit our website ees.kuleuven.be/igcp567/
Contact us at [email protected]
Geoscience in the service of society
The International Geoscience Programme (IGCP) is a joint
initiative of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and
Cultural Organisation) and IUGS (International Union of Geological
The primary aim of the programme is to facilitate international
collaboration amongst scientists from around the world in research
on a multitude of geological problems. Currently, IGCP operates in
about 150 countries, involving several thousands of scientists, active
in a wide range of disciplines related to Earth Sciences. The
programme aims at enhancing geoscientific knowledge and
expertise in developing countries by focusing on capacity building,
knowledge transfer, and the active involvement of geoscientists from
developing countries. With the special emphasis on the benefit
provided to society, IGCP reaches out beyond the Earth Science
community to decision makers, government planners and policy
makers, and promotes geoscience public visibility.
IGCP recently evolved to a programme concentrating more on
applied geosciences, promoting the use of geosciences in global
issues of societal benefit. One of the objectives IGCP pursues is
improving our understanding of the geological factors affecting the
global environment in order to improve human living conditions.
Hence, one of the topics of particular interest to IGCP is
geohazards: mitigating the risks, to which IGCP 567 is central by
guaranteeing the potential of archaeoseismology as a legitimate and
complementary source of seismic-hazard information.
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